My Coding 'Journey'

I've been hanging out at the Code Newbie website a lot lately, talking in the forums as well as listening to the excellent podcasts hosted by Saron Yitbarek. She interviews programmers not only about the technical nitty gritty, but also about the more human side of software development. One of these topics is: how do people get started in software development? What was your first app? What was something you wish you knew before you got into programming?

So far in this blog I haven't divulged many personal details, and you may even be wondering "who is this Jimmy Lo anyway?" This may be because I feel like my story isn't nearly as dramatic or interesting as many others. I didn't change careers (at least not in the traditional sense), or go through bootcamp, or battle many personal adversities.

In fact, my interest in programming started with BASIC in high school, and I was a computer science major in college. So technically I'm not a "newbie" at all (despite how I feel inside). In college, I wrote programs in Pascal, C, Lisp, Smalltalk, as well as making websites for fun in plain HTML and CSS (this was before CMSs existed). After graduating, I worked in a design firm doing their web development, mostly working in Flash and Actionscript as well as some ASP. Then, I made my dramatic career change--away from computers.

I've always loved writing, and in 2003, I moved to Tempe, Arizona to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing-Poetry at Arizona State University.

my Free Poems on Demand project in the Creative LoafingLong story short: I eventually focused a lot of my energies towards writing and the arts, which you can find out more about if you go to my main website here. I still coded, but my attention had been diverted. My skills lagged. When I moved back to Atlanta, I got a job at the county library as the in-house web developer, building out their website as well as making useful tools in PHP to streamline their day to day tasks.

Last year, I quit in order to do freelance work and have more time to learn new things (both professionally and personally). Despite the financial hit, I think it was worth it--my interest in coding has blossomed since then. I am now learning more than I ever had.

Even though I don't regret spending time on other interests, I also wish I had dedicated more of it towards coding. When I think back on it, I realize that all my programming jobs have been at places where I was the only programmer, or I was only one of a very small team where everyone just worked on their own code. Even though I'm not technically a newbie, I feel like one when it comes to collaborating in a team and working on a shared codebase. And as a programmer, the best way to learn is to collaborate with a team of smart people that will push you. This kind of learning and working environment is what I crave now.

Luckily, I'm getting back into the game right when coding is starting to get a lot more mainstream and exciting. Free learning resources are all over the web, and the community is super supportive. Open source software has made code available to all. And attitudes are also improving. Programming has gotten a lot more inclusive to newbies and non-programmers alike. People who don't come from a traditional computer science background can easily enter the field. All of this is encouraging and makes me feel like I am moving in the right direction.